At the home of Leeds Rhinos, England put on arguably their best performance since their resounding win over Samoa at the start of last year’s World Cup to complete a series whitewash against Tonga on Saturday.
There were tries for Warrington Wolves duo Ben Currie and Matty Ashton, the departing Elliott Whitehead and Leeds star Harry Newman.
Newman’s try was particularly special. Not only was he scoring on the ground where he is truly beloved by the fans but it was a magnificent try with superb handling setting England away down the left before Wigan Warriors’ Harry Smith kicked back over to the right where Newman was waiting to weave in and out to score the try of the series bar none.
This was a try worth the admission money alone and the 15,477 fans in attendance certainly seemed to think so the way they celebrated the try. The attendance was the largest for a non World Cup game or a game against Australia or New Zealand in England’s history.
It was by far the strongest of the series with the game at St Helens shy of 14,000 whilst the clash at Huddersfield coming short of 13,000 with many fans disappointed by what were described as “under par” attendances.
However, the 15,477 at Headingley and the 13,890 at St Helens were both stronger than the crowd that showed up for the clash between Australia and New Zealand to complete the Pacific Championships.
Only, 13,269 were in attendance on Saturday to see this game as the Kiwis stunned the World Champions to claim a 30-0 triumph over their rivals. This shows that England’s crowds are still strong despite what some naysayers might believe.
Rugby Football Chair and member of the Board at the IRL Simon Johnson was certainly impressed with three great internationals at Leeds in the space of 24 hours.
“With the support of Leeds City Council, we have staged two memorable occasions, with a crowd of more than 15,000 at Headingley on Saturday generating a rousing atmosphere for convincing wins for England Women against Wales, and for the Men against Tonga to secure a 3-0 series win,” Johnson said, “In each case a fitting way for two outstanding England players, Vicky Molyneux and Elliott Whitehead, to make their international farewells.”
He added: “France were worthy winners of the Wheelchair match which was another compelling spectacle and a wonderful occasion, following on from that unforgettable World Cup Final in Manchester.
“Earlier in the day, I attended a Wheelchair Rugby League Development Festival hosted by Leeds Rhinos, attended by more than 80 players from several clubs around Yorkshire, and providing tangible evidence of the impact made by last year’s World Cup, with an increase of 71% in participation through 2023, and a number of new clubs formed from Cardiff to York, and Edinburgh to Hull KR.
“With the BBC again providing outstanding coverage of all three England internationals this weekend, the profile of Wheelchair Rugby League continues to grow.”